Welcome to the winter fishing season in the Florida Keys! Don’t blink! You might miss it! Just kidding. Our winter species will be here through late March or mid-April, as a general rule of thumb. Expect to see all the usual wintertime suspects; on the reef-oceanside of our island communities, in Florida Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Snapper of all varieties (grouper is out of season until May 1st), kingfish, Spanish and cero mackerel have all graced us with their presence. While all of these species are fun and, at times, challenging to catch, it’s the gamefish like wahoo, cobia and sailfish that garner the most respect. That’s because, if you aren’t on your game, you will not be catching these fish. Sure, a blind squirrel gets a nut every now and then, but you really have to be prepared all the time to capitalize on situations when they arise.
Right now, cobia can be found anywhere from the wrecks in Florida Bay north of the Marathon and Key Colony Beach area; to Hawk Channel wrecks, or just cruising on the surface--especially on the color changes. They can also be found following large rays traveling the reef line or on the outside edge of the reef, again on the color changes, both in the greener water or the blue side. They may also just appear behind the boat while snapper fishing in any of these venues.
That’s where preparation comes into play. This time of year, even if I”m not cobia or sailfishing, I have several rods set up for just that occasion, ready to take advantage of an opportunity that may present itself--and they often do. I keep four medium to heavy spinning rods ready to go at a moment’s notice, especially while traveling to and from different fishing spots.
All four rods have 30-pound mono mainline with a Bimini twist. On one, I’ll have a six foot 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader 5/0 or 6/0 mustard 9174 live bait hook, and, on the other, a large fluorescent green buck tail jig, with a brown eel for casting. Use live bait on the jig to get the attention of free swimming or traveling cobia. My bait of choice are live grunts the size of your hand or a little bigger.
The other two rods are set up with circle hooks between 4/0-6/0, depending mainly on the size of the baits I have that day for sailfish. Bigger bait, bigger hook. But don’t overdo it. It’s very important for the bait to swim naturally. I can change a hook on any of these rods in under a minute and go to full sailfish or cobia mode in less than two minutes.
In addition to those four rods, I have a couple of medium-strong rods with 50 lb. braid. One is always set up with a 50 lb. fluoro top shot about twenty feet, with a 3-5 oz. egg sinker, followed by a swivel and two and a half feet of fifty-pound fluorocarbon with a 6/0 live bait hook. This rod is specifically for getting a bait deep to a ray, traveling with a cobia entourage.
Finding rays traveling deep with cobia takes a keen eye and some experience. I will tell you this, they are easier to find in the sandy spots on the reef than the darker spots of grass and rocks. They tend to be the six-foot square thing on the bottom that appears to be moving. Also, should you find a cobia or two milling about on the surface near the reef line, either inside or out, try to get them hooked up. But then, start looking for that ray because, chances are, there is one close by and it probably has more cobia buddies waiting to entertain you.
Comments will be approved before showing up.